November is National Adoption Month. This year’s initiative, “We Never Outgrow the Need for Family,” spotlights the needs of waiting children in foster care. These older children are at-risk of aging out and face numerous hardships. Helping these children is more than just providing a family – it is an act of compassion and love that can give them a new lease on life.
There are many ways you can get involved in National Adoption Month here in Oklahoma.
Why Should I Get Involved with National Adoption Month?
One of the biggest goals of National Adoption Month is to prevent children from “aging out” of the foster care system. Aging out refers to children who reach adulthood without being adopted, forcing them to take care of themselves.
Between January 2009 and December 2013, 1,639 children aged out of foster care in Oklahoma.
After aging out of foster care:
- 26% experienced homelessness;
- Only 69% earned their High School diploma or GED certificate;
- Only 33% filed a tax return, with their average annual income reported as $13,000;
- 62% accessed public services and assistance programs including SNAP, TANF, and Child Care services.
These statistics point to many of the difficulties children have after aging out of foster care. It’s extremely difficult for them to support themselves, find stable work and housing, and earn a liveable income.
Unfortunately it’s difficult for older children to escape the foster system. As children age, their likelihood of being adopted drops significantly. In Oklahoma alone, approximately 40% of children awaiting adoption are ages 9 to 18. Yet less than half of these children are eventually adopted.
Additionally, of the children in foster care, nearly 40% of them have been in the foster system for five years or more. Many do not see adoption or a permanent family as an achievable goal. These children are at high risk of aging out without a permanent living situation or support network. This in turn will leave them open to many of the hardships described above.
What You Can Do to Help
Fortunately there are ways you can help these at-risk children in Oklahoma. Between raising awareness in your community, volunteering your time with foster children, or even signing up to be a foster parent or adoptive parent, you can make a difference to children who need your help.
Raising Awareness About Foster Care
Most people simply don’t know the realities of foster care. They don’t have much contact with the system or the children within it. By working to raise awareness, you can help build knowledge and compassion in the community for these children. You may even reach someone who can provide a home to a child in need.
There are many ways you can work to raise awareness in your community. The National Adoption Day website is an excellent place to start. They offer free resources for activists and volunteers to help you plan an event, donate your time, or promote adoption awareness.
You can also get a number of outreach tools from The Child Welfare Information Gateway website. This site provides information from the US Department of Health and Human Services and several major adoption and foster care organizations. Their outreach tools are simple yet effective ways to promote foster care and adoption awareness.
Volunteering With Foster Children
The Office of Volunteerism at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services provides the best information about how to volunteer your time and money in Oklahoma. Their website allows you to search for volunteer opportunities and programs near you. Here are just a few of the ways you can help:
- Mentoring: Many agencies need mentors, especially if you have special skills or experience. Academic, athletic, and other volunteers are always welcome to apply.
- Special activities: OKDHS puts on special activities including holiday celebrations, fundraising events, and other activities throughout the year. Volunteering to participate in these activities can help make a difference to the children who need them.
- Donations: Along with financial donations to organizations promoting foster care and adoption in Oklahoma, you can also help by donating gifts and unneeded items to many organizations. Toys, child clothing, car seats, books, and many other items are always welcome.
Becoming a Foster Parent or Adoptive Parent
While not everyone is ready or able to foster or adopt a child, the process isn’t as hard as you might think. Registering to adopt an older child or to be a foster home doesn’t take much time, and specialists will help you with the process.
To sign up as a foster parent, start at the OKDHS website and learn about the qualifications needed. Among other qualifications, you will need:
- To be above the age of 21;
- To pass OKDHS foster parent training;
- To pass a federal background check, as must every member of your household above the age of 13;
- To have a home with adequate sleeping and living space for the foster child.
You will also need to provide references and demonstrate proof of income and financial stability. If you have more questions about becoming a foster parent in Oklahoma, you can learn more on the OKDHS website or contact their Foster Parent Hotline at 1-800-376-9729.
The process to adopt a foster child is longer and more involved, but it is also one of the most compassionate ways to help a child in need. Our website has lots of information about the process of adopting an older child in Oklahoma. You can learn more about the qualifications for adopting an older child, or read some of the stories of our created families online.
No matter how you choose to help, your time and effort is invaluable to the waiting children of Oklahoma. If you want more information about National Adoption Month and how you can help children in need, contact us today at Deaconess Pregnancy and Adoption Services. As Oklahoma’s first and oldest adoption agency, we have more experience than anyone at helping Oklahoma’s children. Call us at (405) 949-4200 or visit our Facebook page to learn more about our activities and how you can join us.